Planning a trip can be a chore. Where do you start? And once your trip is underway, how do you keep track of the weather and find out what there is to photograph nearby? There are plenty of websites available to help you with your planning, but here are some that I use all the time.
When planning a trip, I almost always begin my research at TripAdvisor.com. If you want the straight scoop on a hotel, there’s nothing like hearing directly from someone who has stayed there. As with any review site, you must take these comments with a grain of salt. But you can bet that, if a hotel is rated number one of 52 hotels in the city, it’s a fine hotel. I’ve found high-end hotels and good deals on budget motels on TripAdvisor.
Read through the reviews and look at the photos to get a true idea about this establishment. That’s something you won’t get from the hotel’s website or brochures. You can also view all the hotels on a map. Use this feature to look for hotels in the part of town where you want to stay (near the airport, downtown, or next door to a particular attraction, for example.)
Besides accommodations, TripAdvisor allows you to read reviews of restaurants and things to do in your chosen city. You can check availability of rooms for the nights you’ll be travelling and then get prices from a handful of different travel sites including Expedia. Don’t forget to add your own TripAdvisor review once you’ve completed your trip.
Travelocity.com is a great place to find and book all sorts of travel arrangements including flights, hotels, and rental cars. Although I usually prefer to make my travel arrangements directly with the hotel, airline, or rental car agency, I always double-check prices on Travelocity.com. Sometimes, they have some excellent deals-especially on travel package that you can’t get anywhere else. I often find deals on hotel or airline brands that I hadn’t even considered booking before. If your plans are flexible, check their Last Minute Deals section for the latest deals.
Before I ever choose a seat on an airplane, I always check SeatGuru.com. Here, you’ll find a seating chart specific to the plane you’ll be flying. The graphic will show you many important aspects of your seat choice. Does it have a power port for your computer? How’s the legroom? Is it in an exit row? All this information is displayed using colors: green for good, yellow for OK, red for a bad seat, and white for seats that have no serious defects or extra amenities.
You’ll need to take note of the type of plane to be used (Boeing 767-300, for example) for the flight that you’ve booked. This information will be shown on the reservation page from the airline-or Travelocity’s-website. You’ll need this information in order to get the correct seating chart from SeatGuru.
You use the two sites in combination. The airline’s site will show you which seats are available while SeatGuru helps you decide which available seat to choose. You can also book your flight through SeatGuru if you want.
There is no such thing as bad weather. There are only different photo opportunities. That being said, I always keep a close eye on weather reports as I travel. I’ve used a few different weather sites, but AccuWeather.com is the best. It’s easy-and free-to get several different types of weather forecasts. They offer five-day forecasts, hour-by-hour forecasts, and video forecasts similar to what you might see on a television news show. You can also check sunrise and sunset times.
Let’s say you’re sitting in your hotel room in Minneapolis. You’ve never been here before and you’re trying to figure out what there is to see within walking distance. Go to maps.google.com (or just search google for “maps” and it will be the first entry listed) and type in the address of your hotel.
Once you have the map showing the location of your hotel, click on it and select “search nearby.” Now type in “tourist attraction” and you’ll see everything nearby. Click on one of the attractions and choose “Get Directions.” You can select directions for walking, driving, or public transportation. Or choose “Street View” to take a virtual stroll around the area.
You’ll find that many of the attractions listed are not that attractive. For example, the Mill City Museum is certainly a popular tourist attraction in Minneapolis, while “American Army & Navy Surplus” isn’t. But they are both listed in google maps as tourist attractions. If you’re looking for a particular attraction, just type its name in the “Search Nearby” box instead. Even then, you’ll get some specious results. Type in “Mall of America” and you’ll get all sorts of listings that are NOT the Mall of America and yet have that title. It’s not perfect, but google maps is the only online mapping site that I use.
If I’ve left out one of your favorite travel-related websites, please post it in a comment at the end of this article. The internet: never leave home without it.